Q – IT decision makers and project managers, CTOs, CEOs and CIOs complain that they can’t find enough candidates who understand business. Headhunters and HR people echo the same thoughts. But what exactly does that mean? It’s never defined. Does it have to mean an MBA, or are there certain cardinal business commandments the IT people ought to know?

A – Our team works with a number of professional service groups who recruit for technical skills and attempt to develop business acumen capabilities and competencies. I also referenced this topic at my keynote to the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) recently.

Here are the top 5 aspects of “business acumen”:

  1. Business Impact – all the technical skills in the world, won’t help you gauge the business impact of implementing that technology; how much will it cost, how long will it take, how to effectively prioritize limited resources, what-if scenarios, decision trees are all in this area; do you need an MBA – not necessarily – the school of hard knocks or really good mentors over a period of time will do; does an MBA help – absolutely!
  2. Risk Mitigation – every decision has up and downside; how savvy are you in taking calculated risk while you mitigate the downside; how well do you anticipate worst case scenarios and contingency plans; how prepared are you in quickly addressing challenging situations – this is casually referred to as “being ahead of the ball.”
  3. Credibility Dilution – every individual, team and organization begins their internal and external presence with a certain level of credibility; from there you have two options – you can build & nurture it, or you can dilute it; most managers are looking for, first and foremost, the latter; the former is a nice to have and very characteristic of high performers.
  4. Engage & Influence – communication, presentation and business networking / relationship building skills are a means to an end – to engage and influence others, often without authority; as a project or program manager, how can you get that VP to listen to and prioritize that which is critical to your success?
  5. X-Factor – I’ve been at this for a while and although we’ve been able to assess a great deal in individuals and teams, there is still a certain “x-factor” that some technical – even business folks have that others simply don’t! You can’t teach professional pride; you can’t teach life-long learning mindset; you can’t teach “relationship intelligence.” This is the single biggest differentiator between high performers and high potentials.

What do you think? Any others to add?

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